NYC program uses ex-gang members to combat violence
$12.7M program will parachute reformed members onto the streets to quell beefs and into hospitals to implore shooting victims not to retaliate
By Matthew Chayes
NEW YORK — A nearly $12.7 million program funded by New York City will parachute reformed gang members onto the streets to quell beefs and into hospitals to implore shooting victims not to retaliate.
The neighborhoods to be targeted by the ex-gang members — called "violence interrupters" — are in all five boroughs, in the city's 14 most shooting-prone police precincts. Those precincts account for 51 percent of citywide shootings, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday in announcing the efforts.
"I go out there, I'm mom on the block, right?" said Sharon Ife'Charles of the Center for Court Innovation, which helps run a program in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, the South Bronx and Morrisania that the de Blasio administration is building on. "They've been there — and done that."
Youths at de Blasio's announcement, held at Harlem Hospital Center, wore T-shirts with the slogan "Guns Down, Life Up."
The violence-interruption model on which the program is based is being tried across the country, including in Chicago; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Columbus, Georgia. The program is currently in effect in five New York City precincts.
It treats violence as a public-health disease to be cured, the way epidemiologists attack the spread of ailments like AIDS, cholera and tuberculosis.
The mayor's announcement comes as the number of shootings in the city continues to climb, soaring to triple-digit increases in some outer borough precincts, although other serious crimes continue to fall, according to figures released Monday by the NYPD.
De Blasio said "one of the best ways to measure" the program's success will be the shooting statistics.
The $12.7 million funds not only the salaries for the ex-gang members and case workers who follow up but also pays for job training, mental health and legal services, schoolhouse mediation and even daily algebra tutoring, which, the mayor's office said, when combined with other support, has been shown both to reduce violence 44 percent and improve academics.
Ife'Charles cited a 66 percent decrease in shooting incidents in a particular area of Crown Heights targeted by the program.
The program, she said, helps identify young people between 16 and 24: "The folks that are out there that might be involved in wrong behavior, and then we constantly work with them."
Dedric "Beloved" Hammond, 35, who served 8 years in prison for robbery and gun crimes, brandishes reason and emotion to gunshot victims in hospitals, wheelchairs and sickbeds.
"If you're shot and you had a gun, imagine what's going to happen to your loved ones that don't have a gun and that's not prepared for this war," said Hammond, who was wounded five times more than a decade ago from a fight with a childhood acquaintance. "So you have a chance to stop it while you lay in this bed thinking about only you."
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